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“Good-Bye, Jack,” by Jack London

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“Good-Bye, Jack,” by Jack London

Jack London (January 12, 1876 – November 22, 1916) was an American author who wrote “The Call of the Wild,” “White Fang,” and other books, many short stories, and magazine articles. London had a great passion for agriculture, developing a self-sufficient ranching model at his 1,000 acre Beauty Ranch in Glen Ellen, Sonoma Valley, California. Jack London first visited Hawaii in 1893. His last trip to Hawaii, in December 1915, lasted eight months during which time he met the Olympiad swimmer and Hawaiian surfer Duke Kahanamoku, Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana’ole, Queen Lili’uokalani and others, before returning to his ranch in July 1916, where he died of kidney disease complications at age 40. The piece appearing below is one of his Hawaii-related short stories.


“Good-Bye, Jack”

Hawaii is a queer place. Everything socially is what I may call topsy-turvy. Not but what things are correct. They are almost too much so. But still things are sort of upside down. The most ultra-exclusive set there is the “Missionary Crowd.” It comes with rather a shock to learn that in Hawaii the obscure martyrdom-seeking missionary sits at the head of the table of the moneyed aristocracy. But it is true. The humble New Englanders who came out in the third decade of the nineteenth century, came for the lofty purpose of teaching the kanakas the true religion, the worship of the one only genuine and undeniable God. So well did they succeed in this, and also in civilizing the kanaka, that by the second or third generation he was practically extinct. This being the fruit of the seed of the Gospel, the fruit of the seed of the missionaries (the sons and the grandsons) was the possession of the islands themselves–of the land, the ports, the town sites, and the sugar plantations: The missionary who came to give the bread of life remained to gobble up the whole heathen feast.

But that is not the Hawaiian queerness I started out to tell. Only one cannot speak of things Hawaiian without mentioning the missionaries. There is Jack Kersdale, the man I wanted to tell about; he came of missionary stock. That is, on his grandmother’s side. His grandfather was old Benjamin Kersdale, a Yankee trader, who got his start for a million in the old days by selling cheap whiskey and square-face gin. There’s another queer thing. The old missionaries and old traders were mortal enemies. You see, their interests conflicted. But their children made it up by intermarrying and dividing the island between them.

Life in Hawaii is a song. That’s the way Stoddard put it in his “Hawaii Noi.”

“Thy life is music–Fate the notes prolong! Each isle a stanza, and the whole a song.”

And he was right. Flesh is golden there. The native women are sun-ripe Junos, the native men bronzed Apollos. They sing and dance, and all are flower-bejewelled and flower-crowned. And outside, the rigid “Missionary Crowd,” the white men, yield to the climate and the sun, and no matter how busy they may be, are prone to dance and sing and wear flowers behind their ears and in their hair. Jack Kersdale was one of these fellows. He was one of the busiest men I ever met. He was a several-times millionaire. He was a sugar-king, a coffee planter, a rubber pioneer, a cattle rancher, and a promoter of three out of every four new enterprises launched in the islands. He was a society man, a club man, a yachtsman, a bachelor, and withal as handsome a man as was ever doted upon by mammas with marriageable daughters. Incidentally, he had finished his education at Yale, and his head was crammed fuller with vital statistics and scholarly information concerning Hawaii Nei than any other islander I ever encountered. He turned off an immense amount of work, and he sang and danced and put flowers in his hair as immensely as any of the idlers.

He had grit, and had fought two duels, both political, when he was no more than a raw youth essaying his first adventures in politics. In fact, he played a most creditable and courageous part in the last revolution, when the native dynasty was overthrown, and he could not have been over sixteen at the time. I am pointing out that he was no coward, in order that you may appreciate what happens later on. I’ve seen him in the breaking yard at the Haleakala Ranch, conquering a four-year-old brute that for two years had defied the pick of Von Tempsky’s cow-boys. And I must tell of one other thing. It was down in Kona, or up, rather, for the Kona people scorn to live at less than a thousand feet elevation. We were all on the lanai of Doctor Goodhue’s bungalow. I was talking with Dottie Fairchild when it happened. A big centipede–it was seven inches, for we measured it afterwards–fell from the rafters overhead squarely into her coiffure. I confess, the hideousness of it paralysed me. I couldn’t move. My mind refused to work. There, within two feet of me, the ugly venomous devil was writhing in her hair. It threatened at any moment to fall down upon her exposed shoulders–we had just come out from dinner.

“What is it?” she asked, starting to raise her hand to her head.

“Don’t!” I cried. “Don’t!”

“But what is it?” she insisted, growing frightened by the fright she read in my eyes and on my stammering lips.

My exclamation attracted Kersdale’s attention. He glanced our way carelessly, but in that glance took in everything. He came over to us, but without haste.

“Please don’t move, Dottie,” he said quietly.

He never hesitated, nor did he hurry and make a bungle of it.

“Allow me,” he said.

And with one hand he caught her scarf and drew it tightly around her shoulders so that the centipede could not fall inside her bodice. With the other hand, the right,he reached into her hair, caught the repulsive abomination as near as he was able by the nape of the neck, and held it tightly between thumb and forefinger as he withdrew it from her hair. It was as horrible and heroic a sight as man could wish to see. It made my flesh crawl. The centipede, seven inches of squirming legs, writhed and twisted and dashed itself about his hand, the body twining around the fingers and the legs digging into the skin and scratching as the beast endeavoured to free itself. It bit him twice–I saw it–though he assured the ladies that he was not harmed as he dropped it upon the walk and stamped it into the gravel. But I saw him in the surgery five minutes afterwards, with Doctor Goodhue scarifying the wounds and injecting permanganate of potash. The next morning Kersdale’s arm was as big as a barrel, and it was three weeks before the swelling went down.

All of which has nothing to do with my story, but which I could not avoid giving in order to show that Jack Kersdale was anything but a coward. It was the cleanest exhibition of grit I have ever seen. He never turned a hair. The smile never left his lips. And he dived with thumb and forefinger into Dottie Fairchild’s hair as gaily as if it had been a box of salted almonds. Yet that was the man I was destined to see stricken with a fear a thousand times more hideous even than the fear that was mine when I saw that writhing abomination in Dottie Fairchild’s hair, dangling over her eyes and the trap of her bodice.

I was interested in leprosy, and upon that, as upon every other island subject, Kersdale had encyclopedic knowledge. In fact, leprosy was one of his hobbies. He was an ardent defender of the settlement at Molokai, where all the island lepers were segregated. There was much talk and feeling among the natives, fanned by the demagogues, concerning the cruelties of Molokai, where men and women, not alone banished from friends and family, were compelled to live in perpetual imprisonment until they died. There were no reprieves, no commutations of sentences. “Abandon hope” was written over the portal of Molokai.

“I tell you they are happy there,” Kersdale insisted. “And they are infinitely better off than their friends and relatives outside who have nothing the matter with them. The horrors of Molokai are all poppycock. I can take you through any hospital or any slum in any of the great cities of the world and show you a thousand times worse horrors. The living death! The creatures that once were men! Bosh! You ought to see those living deaths racing horses on the Fourth of July. Some of them own boats. One has a gasoline launch.

They have nothing to do but have a good time. Food, shelter, clothes, medical attendance, everything, is theirs. They are the wards of the Territory. They have a much finer climate than Honolulu, and the scenery is magnificent. I shouldn’t mind going down there myself for the rest of my days. It is a lovely spot.”

So, Kersdale on the joyous leper. He was not afraid of leprosy. He said so himself, and that there wasn’t one chance in a million for him or any other white man to catch it, though he confessed afterward that one of his school chums, Alfred Starter, had contracted it, gone to Molokai, and there died.

“You know, in the old days,” Kersdale explained, “there was no certain test for leprosy. Anything unusual or abnormal was sufficient to send a fellow to Molokai. The result was that dozens were sent there who were no more lepers than you or I. But they don’t make that mistake now. The Board of Health tests are infallible. The funny thing is that when the test was discovered they immediately went down to Molokai and applied it, and they found a number who were not lepers. These were immediately deported. Happy to get away? They wailed harder at leaving the settlement than when they left Honolulu to go to it. Some refused to leave, and really had to be forced out. One of them even married a leper woman in the last stages and then wrote pathetic letters to the Board of Health, protesting against his expulsion on the ground that no one was so well able as he to take care of his poor old wife.”

“What is this infallible test?” I demanded.

“The bacteriological test. There is no getting away from it. Doctor Hervey–he’s our expert you know–was the first man to apply it here. He is a wizard. He knows more about leprosy than any living man, and if a cure is ever discovered, he’ll be that discoverer. As for the test, it is very simple. They have succeeded in isolating the bacillus leprae and studying it. They know it now when they see it. All they do is to snip a bit of skin from the suspect and subject it to the bacteriological test. A man without any visible symptoms may be chock full of the leprosy bacilli.”

“Then you or I, for all we know,” I suggested, “may be full of it now.”

Kersdale shrugged his shoulders and laughed.

“Who can say? It takes seven years for it to incubate. If you have any doubts go and see Doctor Hervey. He’ll just snip out a piece of your skin and let you know in a jiffy.”

Later on he introduced me to Dr. Hervey, who loaded me down with Board of Health reports and pamphlets on the subject, and took me out to Kalihi, the Honolulu receiving station, where suspects were examined and confirmed lepers were held for deportation to Molokai. These deportations occurred about once a month, when, the last good-byes said, the lepers were marched on board the little steamer, the Noeau, and carried down to the settlement.

One afternoon, writing letters at the club, Jack Kersdale dropped in on me.

“Just the man I want to see,” was his greeting. “I’ll show you the saddest aspect of the whole situation–the lepers wailing as they depart for Molokai. The Noeau will be taking them on board in a few minutes. But let me warn you not to let your feelings be harrowed. Real as their grief is, they’d wail a whole sight harder a year hence if the Board of Health tried to take them away from Molokai. We’ve just time for a whiskey and soda. I’ve a carriage outside. It won’t take us five minutes to get down to the wharf.”

To the wharf we drove. Some forty sad wretches, amid their mats, blankets, and luggage of various sorts, were squatting on the stringer piece. The Noeau had just arrived and was making fast to a lighter that lay between her and the wharf. A Mr. McVeigh, the superintendent of the settlement, was overseeing the embarkation, and to him I was introduced, also to Dr. Georges, one of the Board of Health physicians whom I had already met at Kalihi. The lepers were a woebegone lot. The faces of the majority were hideous—too horrible for me to describe. But here and there I noticed fairly good-looking persons, with no apparent signs of the fell disease upon them. One, I noticed, a little white girl, not more than twelve, with blue eyes and golden hair. One cheek, however, showed the leprous bloat. On my remarking on the sadness of her alien situation among the brown-skinned afflicted ones, Doctor Georges replied:

“Oh, I don’t know. It’s a happy day in her life. She comes from Kauai. Her father is a brute. And now that she has developed the disease she is going to join her mother at the settlement. Her mother was sent down three years ago–a very bad case.”

“You can’t always tell from appearances,” Mr. McVeigh explained. That man there, that big chap, who looks the pink of condition, with nothing the matter with him, I happen to know has a perforating ulcer in his foot and another in his shoulder-blade. Then there are others–there, see that girl’s hand, the one who is smoking the cigarette. See her twisted fingers. That’s the anaesthetic form. It attacks the nerves. You could cut her fingers off with a dull knife, or rub them off on a nutmeg-grater, and she would not experience the slightest sensation.”

“Yes, but that fine-looking woman, there,” I persisted; “surely, surely, there can’t be anything the matter with her. She is too glorious and gorgeous altogether.”

“A sad case,” Mr. McVeigh answered over his shoulder, already turning away to walk down the wharf with Kersdale.

She was a beautiful woman, and she was pure Polynesian. From my meager knowledge of the race and its types I could not but conclude that she had descended from old chief stock. She could not have been more than twenty-three or four. Her lines and proportions were magnificent, and she was just beginning to show the amplitude of the women of her race.

“It was a blow to all of us,” Dr. Georges volunteered. “She gave herself up voluntarily, too. No one suspected. But somehow she had contracted the disease. It broke us all up, I assure you. We’ve kept it out of the papers, though. Nobody but us and her family knows what has become of her. In fact, if you were to ask any man In Honolulu, he’d tell you it was his impression that she was somewhere in Europe. It was at her request that we’ve been so quiet about it. Poor girl, she has a lot of pride.”

“But who is she?” I asked. “Certainly, from the way you talk about her, she must be somebody.”

“Did you ever hear of Lucy Mokunui?” he asked.

“Lucy Mokunui?” I repeated, haunted by some familiar association. I shook my head. “It seems to me I’ve heard the name, but I’ve forgotten it.”

“Never heard of Lucy Mokunui! The Hawaiian nightingale! I beg your pardon. Of course you are a malahini and could not be expected to know. Well, Lucy Mokunui was the best beloved of Honolulu–of all Hawaii, for that matter.”

“You say WAS,” I interrupted.

“And I mean it. She is finished.” He shrugged his shoulders pityingly. “A dozen haoles–I beg your pardon, white men–have lost their hearts to her at one time or another. And I’m not counting in the ruck. The dozen I refer to were haoles of position and prominence.”

“She could have married the son of the Chief Justice if she’d wanted to. You think she’s beautiful, eh? But you should hear her sing. Finest native woman singer in Hawaii Nei. Her throat is pure silver and melted sunshine. We adored her. She toured America first with the Royal Hawaiian Band. After that she made two more trips on her own–concert work.”

“Oh!” I cried. “I remember now. I heard her two years ago at the Boston Symphony. So that is she. I recognize her now.”

I was oppressed by a heavy sadness. Life was a futile thing at best. A short two years and this magnificent creature, at the summit of her magnificent success, was one of the leper squad awaiting deportation to Molokai. Henley’s lines came into my mind:

“The poor old tramp explains his poor old ulcers; Life is, I think, a blunder and a shame.”

I recoiled from my own future. If this awful fate fell to Lucy Mokunui, what might my lot not be?–or anybody’s lot? I was thoroughly aware that in life we are in the midst of death–but to be in the midst of living death, to die and not be dead, to be one of that draft of creatures that once were men, aye, and women, like Lucy Mokunui, the epitome of all Polynesian charms, an artist as well, and well beloved of men. I am afraid I must have betrayed my perturbation, for Doctor Georges hastened to assure me that they were very happy down in the settlement.

It was all too inconceivably monstrous. I could not bear to look at her. A short distance away, behind a stretched rope guarded by a policeman, were the lepers’ relatives and friends. They were not allowed to come near. There were no last embraces, no kisses of farewell. They called back and forth to one another–last messages, last words of love, last reiterated instructions. And those behind the rope looked with terrible intensity. It was the last time they would behold the faces of their loved ones, for they were the living dead, being carted away in the funeral ship to the graveyard of Molokai.

Doctor Georges gave the command, and the unhappy wretches dragged themselves to their feet and under their burdens of luggage began to stagger across the lighter and aboard the steamer. It was the funeral procession. At once the wailing started from those behind the rope. It was blood-curdling; it was heart-rending. I never heard such woe, and I hope never to again. Kersdale and McVeigh were still at the other end of the wharf, talking earnestly–politics, of course, for both were head-over-heels in that particular game. When Lucy Mokunui passed me, I stole a look at her. She WAS beautiful. She was beautiful by our standards, as well–one of those rare blossoms that occur but once in generations. And she, of all women, was doomed to Molokai. She headed straight on board, and aft on the open deck where the lepers huddled by the rail, wailing now, to their dear ones on shore.

The lines were cast off, and the Noeau began to move away from the wharf. The wailing increased. Such grief and despair! I was just resolving that never again would I be a witness to the sailing of the Noeau, when McVeigh and Kersdale returned. The latter’s eyes were sparkling, and his lips could not quite hide the smile of delight that was his. Evidently the politics they had talked had been satisfactory. The rope had been flung aside, and the lamenting relatives now crowded the stringer piece on either side of us.

“That’s her mother,” Doctor Georges whispered, indicating an old woman next to me, who was rocking back and forth and gazing at the steamer rail out of tear-blinded eyes. I noticed that Lucy Mokunui was also wailing. She stopped abruptly and gazed at Kersdale. Then she stretched forth her arms in that adorable, sensuous way that Olga Nethersole has of embracing an audience. And with arms outspread, she cried:

“Good-bye, Jack! Good-bye!”

He heard the cry, and looked. Never was a man overtaken by more crushing fear. He reeled on the stringer piece, his face went white to the roots of his hair, and he seemed to shrink and wither away inside his clothes. He threw up his hands and groaned, “My God! My God!” Then he controlled himself by a great effort.

“Good-bye, Lucy! Good-bye!” he called.

And he stood there on the wharf, waving his hands to her till the Noeau was clear away and the faces lining her after-rail were vague and indistinct.

“I thought you knew,” said McVeigh, who had been regarding him curiously. “You, of all men, should have known. I thought that was why you were here.”

“I know now,” Kersdale answered with immense gravity. “Where’s the carriage?”

He walked rapidly–half-ran–to it. I had to half-run myself to keep up with him.

“Drive to Doctor Hervey’s,” he told the driver. “Drive as fast as you can.”

He sank down in a seat, panting and gasping. The pallor of his face had increased. His lips were compressed and the sweat was standing out on his forehead and upper lip. He seemed in some horrible agony.

“For God’s sake, Martin, make those horses go!” he broke out suddenly. “Lay the whip into them! Do you hear? Lay the whip into them!”

“They’ll break, sir,” the driver remonstrated.

“Let them break,” Kersdale answered. “I’ll pay your fine and square you with the police. Put it to them. That’s right. Faster! Faster!”

“And I never knew, I never knew,” he muttered, sinking back in the seat and with trembling hands wiping the sweat away.

The carriage was bouncing, swaying and lurching around corners at such a wild pace as to make conversation impossible. Besides, there was nothing to say. But I could hear him muttering over and over, “And I never knew. I never knew.”

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